Rolex leads from the front in re­ward­ing ex­cel­lence


“Ex­plor­ers, pro­tec­tors, dream­ers, the hope in th­ese dark times.” That’s how James Cameron de­scribed the ten win­ners of the Rolex Awards for En­ter­prise (RAE) in Novem­ber 2016. He may as well have been de­scrib­ing the brand it­self. Nowhere was it more ev­i­dent than at the 40th an­niver­sary of the RAE in­sti­tuted to mark the 50th an­niver­sary of the clas­sic Rolex Oys­ter chronome­ter at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles (yes, where they host the an­nual Academy Awards). The bi­en­nial RAE has recog­nised 140 lau­re­ates from around the world and given a to­tal of $8 mil­lion to en­able their re­search into di­verse fields that are in tune with the needs of our times. Much of the credit for it should go to the un­flap­pable Re­becca Irvin, Di­rec­tor of Phil­an­thropic Pro­grammes, who is the per­fect am­bas­sador for

the lux­ury brand founded in 1905. Glob­ally, lux­ury brands are no longer selling mere prod­ucts. They are selling a story, an idea, a life­style. In the case of Rolex, the brand puts its money where its mouth is, se­lect­ing pi­o­neers in their field. Irvin talks to Kaveree Bamzai on what drives the Rolex motto for the RAE ini­tia­tive: With the right amount of passion, any­one can change any­thing

What does re­spon­si­ble lux­ury mean to Rolex?

For us it means buy­ing from a com­pany that shares the right val­ues. Rolex sup­ported eth­i­cal and re­spon­si­ble con­sumerism long be­fore corporate so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity be­came manda­tory. The RAE and the Men­tor and Pro­tégé Arts Ini­tia­tive are an ex­am­ple of this. We spend a lot of time and en­ergy iden­ti­fy­ing and dis­cov­er­ing in­di­vid­u­als of ex­cel­lence. We re­ceive hun­dreds of ap­pli­ca­tions for the ten awards with­out ever ad­ver­tis­ing it. Of over 2,000 ap­pli­cants, 30 fi­nal­ists be­tween the ages of 23 and 64 were in­ter­viewed in Geneva by an in­ter­na­tional jury. We want to stim­u­late ex­cel­lence in the cho­sen field.

Why is it im­por­tant to Rolex?

We want to help make things hap­pen. So the award is given not merely for orig­i­nal­ity of idea but also to ex­pand knowl­edge in a new way. In 2009 we started the Young Lau­re­ates pro­gramme. We saw there were bud­ding vi­sion­ar­ies be­tween the ages of 18 and 30 who needed help. We give them grants of CHF50,000 to sup­port their projects.

I be­lieve some lau­re­ates like Francesco Sauro and Michel An­dre who first met at a Rolex cer­e­mony in 2014 are now col­lab­o­rat­ing?

Yes. Sauro and An­dré are propos­ing to ex­plore the most si­lent places on Earth, pi­o­neer­ing an en­tirely new field of science. Sauro be­came a Rolex Young Lau­re­ate in 2014 for his am­bi­tious plan to in­ves­ti­gate, doc­u­ment and in­ter­pret the un­ex­plored cav­erns be­neath the re­mote tepuis, or ta­ble-top moun­tains, of the Ama­zon re­gion. An­dré won the Rolex Award 2002 to de­velop a tech­nol­ogy to pre­vent whales and ships col­lid­ing. An­dre heard Sauro speak­ing at the 2016 sum­mit or­gan­ised by Los Angeles Times and UCLA’s An­der­son School of Man­age­ment, and a col­lab­o­ra­tion was born. The two are now em­ploy­ing state-of-the-art tech­nol­ogy to mea­sure sound in some of the qui­etest places on the planet, so pi­o­neer­ing the novel field of speleo-acous­tics.

THE DREAM TEAM Re­becca Irvin, Head of Phi­lan­thropy (cen­tre) with the 2016 Rolex Young Lau­re­ates

THEATRE OF DREAMS The iconic Dolby Theatre where the Academy awards are hosted

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